WHO proposals threaten 10 000 SA tobacco jobs

The South African tobacco farming sector stands to lose about 10 000 jobs if the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) proposals are passed.

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The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Controls (FCTC) proposes to encourage governments worldwide to phase out tobacco farming. According to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa) the 177 commercial tobacco farmers in SA who collectively employ about 10 000 workers, annually produce 15,6 million kilograms of tobacco from 5 139ha of land.

“If the WHO’s proposals are accepted at the next meeting of the FCTC Conference of the Parties 5 in November and then incorporated into SA law, it will have disastrous consequences for tobacco farmers, not only in SA, but also in neighbouring countries like Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and other African countries, if their governments follow suit,” said Francois van der Merwe, CEO of Tisa as well as chairperson of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association: Africa Region.

Tisa added that the WHO had not issued any alternatives as to how tobacco farmers could make a living if the FCTC’s proposals were accepted. Thousands of people in SA, and more elsewhere, who were currently dependent on tobacco production for their livelihoods, would be unemployed.

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“The reduction in tobacco production by countries who decide to implement these nonsensical guidelines will simply be taken up by other countries who do not implement them. It is time for the SA government to stand up and protect their tobacco farmers and not succumb to ridiculous guidelines cooked up by health bureaucrats in air-conditioned offices in Geneva who know nothing about farming,” said Van der Merwe.

The International Tobacco Grower’s Association (ITGA) said there were currently more than 1 million tobacco farmers in Africa and that 30 million jobs could be lost if the FCTC’s proposals were implemented. The proposals included recommendations for governments to ban minimum support prices for tobacco and leaf auctions, to restrict production by regulating the seasons in which tobacco could be grown, to reduce the area allocated to tobacco farming, to ban financial and technical support for tobacco farmers and to dismantle all bodies connecting tobacco growers with governments.

ITGA and Tisa urged opponents of the FCTC’s proposals to sign an online petition at http://protectfarmers.tobaccoleaf.org/join-our-fight.aspx

British American Tobacco SA had not responded to Farmer’s Weekly’s questions at time of going to print.